Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

Following on the heels of H is for Hawk and Carson McCullers, and in keeping with the esprit of the month, Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet is a further swing at breaking from what I usually read. Though I’m not expecting to actually like it, I can’t deny that the subject matter isn’t tantalising, if not overtly titillating. ‘Tipping the velvet’ is supposedly Victorian slang for cunnilingus. Certainly, I’m not the intended readership; I don’t like period dramas.

I’ve mistakenly attributed hearing about Jeanette Winterson to a particular girl I worked with in London before. Sarah Waters she definitely told me about… maybe? I was thinking about the cliche of what people read what. Sarah Waters is a lesbian author of lesbian fiction. This friend of mine is a lesbian, and this was the recommendation she gave me.

Do I do that too? Do I only read what an impartial observer with a major in literature and a minor in psychology would expect me to read? Do those algorithm-fed Amazon recommendations really understand me? Because in this game of identity politics, I’m not even sure what it is I’m supposed to read. Still, if I’m not even right now besieged in some targeted expectational ‘trap’, then what is it that I’m, with my constant trans-generic reading forays, trying to break free from?

-Reading the Why


Old England is an imaginary place, a landscape built from words, woodcuts, films, paintings, picturesque engravings. It is a place imagined by people, and people do not live very long or look very hard. We are very bad at scale. The things that live in the soil are too small to care about; climate change too large to imagine. We are bad at time, too. We cannot remember what lived here before we did; we cannot love what is not. Nor can we imagine what will be different when we are dead. We live out our three score and ten, and tie our knots and lines only to ourselves. We take solace in pictures, and we wipe the hills of history.

-Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Good trip to the library today.

It’s not always easy, finding books that speak to me, from the past or from the future, finding the right books for the moment. It can take hours, stalking back and forth between the stacks, between continents, across centuries. It’s something I always look forward to. Each visit is like a little piece of art, each pile of books a carefully curated selection.

Today I was feeling curious for new things, new authors, new styles even, but each of my early attempts was frustrated, I kept sliding back to the old, old-man, stalwarts: Nabokov, Vonnegut, Steinbeck. Slowly, though, slowly, the shadows retreated, my focus opened.

One of the books I found was H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. Nature writing is not something I’d really looked into before, unless you count some James Herriot stories when I was little. (I guess that counts.) It seems to be popular these days, or at least getting some sort of attention. We had a very successful reading of Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun a couple of months ago, and more recently, there was the book about lake swimming. And H is for Hawk. One thing though: why is it always paired with grief? Do the two naturally go together? That’s what a more naive me would probably have reflected. Now, cynical as I have become, I just wonder which executive art director is responsible for creating this aesthetic.

-Reading the Why

[PS. Check out the cover, it is gorgeous.]